Every silver lining has a cloud, they say, or is it the other way around? Here’s the silver lining: FEMA has announced that it will award the city of San Jose $14.9 million to rehire 49 firefighters laid off this past summer. The layoffs were forced on the SJFD after it refused to take a 10 percent across-the-board pay cut to help cover the city’s $118 million deficit. In other words, while last year the city had 203 firefighters on duty every single shift, now there are just 179. The FEMA grant could rectify this potentially dangerous situation.
Then there is the cloud. This year’s budget deficit is already at $110 million, and further layoffs are practically inevitable. At the same time, the FEMA grant stipulates that any new hires—in this case, the 49 firefighters rehired, cannot be laid off for two years. If the city takes the money, they would have to expand layoffs in other departments so as to preserve the fire department.
According to Mayor Chuck Reed, this means that the city will end up back at the drawing board, renegotiating with the fire department for a 10 percent salary cut. That didn’t go well last year, and there is no indication that the Firefighters’ Union will allow it this year.
That leaves the city and fire department with several options. Either they can negotiate a salary cut, convince the federal government to waive the precondition or forego the grant entirely. The Mayor says that all of the above options are on the table, but with the federal government already dealing with hefty budget cuts of its own, the possibility of renegotiating its terms seems unlikely. That leaves another standoff between the city and the SJFD looming in the not too distant future.